A man of huge longing, Fr Alfredo Cremonesi will be beatified on 19 October
by Alberto Caccaro

The ceremony will be led by Card Becciu in the cathedral of Crema. Fr Cremonesi spent more than 30 years of his life on mission in what was then Burma. He was called "perpetual motion" because of his restlessness and passion for evangelisation. “if I were born a thousand times, I’d go back on mission a thousand times,” he said. The faithful acknowledged his martyrdom right away.

Milan (AsiaNews) – On Saturday at 3.30 pm, the martyr Fr Alfredo Cremonesi, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), will be beatified. He was killed in Myanmar (then Burma) on 7 February 1953.

The ceremony in Crema will be chaired by Card Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, along with the local bishop, Mgr Daniele Gianotti, and PIME missionaries as well as Italian and Burmese worshippers. Pope Francis acknowledged his martyrdom on 19 March 19. Here is Fr Cremonesi’s spiritual profile.

“Why does the Sacred Heart give me

such huge and devouring longing and

then make it impossible for me to fulfil it?"[1]

Let me I try to draw a brief spiritual profile of Father Alfredo Cremonesi (1902-1953), a native of the Diocese of Crema, a PIME missionary in Myanmar, killed on 7 February 1953, and now one step away from the honours of the altars. His beatification is set for next Saturday as part of the extraordinary missionary month.

Alfredo was just 23 when he left for Burma, today’s Myanmar. He arrived there in November 1925 and shortly thereafter was sent to Donokù, a missionary district in Bago inhabited by ethnic Karen, not far from Toungoo, the first diocese founded by PIME missionaries.

Alfredo felt a desire to become a missionary when he was 20, already in the seminary. He read magazines and missionary books that fascinated him. "All my heart was in there, because that great ideal powerfully stirred in me ".

Despite his ardour, a serious illness blocked his path. Yet, precisely thanks to that adversity that weakened him physically, his "spirit became young and strong again,” he wrote. "It was in that slow decline of my being that my heart felt the attraction of the apostolate, above all, of sacrifice."

Proclaiming the Good News of the God-Love, which for him was embodied in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, filled him with enthusiasm, strength and self-irony. "Here they call me ‘perpetual motion’ because I never know how to stay still", he wrote in 1947. Trying to satisfy his apostolic longing, Alfredo proved to be pragmatic, oblivious to his health at times. “He was told to take care of his health and not to work too hard. But the missionary could not understand such advice. His work was so great, so sublime, that such advice seemed ridiculous to him. Let the cause make great stride, even at the cost of life!” In 1934 he wrote, "I probably gave myself a hundred quinine shots”.

During the Second World War, amid Japanese incursions and personal frustrations, Alfredo constantly felt pressured by a force not his own but which he attributed to Jesus. "Why does the Sacred Heart give me such a huge and devouring longing and then make it impossible for me to fulfil it?" Yet, Alfredo remained generous, devoted, with an open heart. “Not being able to do anything else I also gave myself more hours of nightly worship . . . almost every night”. For him, the mission entrusted to him was "the most wonderful work that a man is given, not to perform, but to see."

“When I kneel for half an hour, a patch of sweat forms under the bench,” he said talking about problems associated with the climate. Likewise, “I never had a drop of oil for seasoning for four years,” he explained speaking about the limited food. “We had not sugar or even salt,” he added.

Yet, “if I were born a thousand times, I would go back on mission a thousand times.” Indeed, “I have never been so happy,” he wrote in 1926 one year after arriving to the mission, “except that my mind is like a volcano. I think all the time, and not a second goes by without thoughts going to work."

Alfredo also associated his missionary work, "which is the most varied life, full of people and words, more on the outside and noisier than any high life", to "an insatiable longing to be in front of Jesus in prayer and in constant exercise of divine presence” and “a great desire to consume everything and soon, so that the kingdom of the Sacred Heart could come to these lands."

In Burma at that time walking was the norm, for days, from one village to another. "He was one of the most tireless travellers among our missionaries. And he had grown accustomed to walking on foot,” some said about him.

Father Alfredo's missionary adventure became entangled with the experience of war.  "So here we are in the middle of a battlefield,” he wrote in 1945. "Soldiers come and go, shooting . . . villages destroyed by various troops in retaliation ...".

When the Second World War ended, a local one began, the First Karen War (1948-1952), between the Karen and the central government. Against this background, he was not keen to abandon the Catholic villages because his presence was often a good deterrent to violence.

In 1950, unfortunately, two other PIME missionaries, Mario Vergara and Pietro Galastri, lost their lives. In August of the same year Alfredo was asked to leave, especially Donokù parish, and took refuge in Toungoo. For him, it was true exile, far from his Christians. He made it back only in March 1952 and promised not to leave again. “Whatever my death, as long as it is not in exile,” he said after he went back to Donokù. Still, exile spared him a first encounter with martyrdom.

Although “In the village where I lived, all of my belongings were looted, everything I had at home, in the church, in the school, in the convent ... The work of 26 years was all lost", nothing could prevent Alfredo from going back to his own people. "I shan’t run away anymore, whatever happens. At most they’ll kill me."

On February 7, 1953, after the Burmese military operation failed to flush out Karen rebels from the region, government troops entered Donokù, and accused Cremonesi and the villagers of supporting the rebels. They shot him and the village chief. Fr Alfredo died instantly.

Right after his death, he was declared a martyr by popular sensus fidei. "A victim of his charity” and “a good shepherd who gave his life for his flock,” they said of him. Some faithful were eager to deliver an envelope with some personal effects to the then bishop of Toungoo, Mgr Lanfranconi. On the envelope one could read: ‘Relics of the martyr Father Cremonesi to be sent to his parents’.

One of the many nicknames given to him struck me: Fr Alfredo, "the smile of the mission".

Picture: The Bishop of Crema Daniele Gianotti, at the press conference on Fr Cremonesi (Il Nuovo Torrazzo)

[1] P. Gheddo, Alfredo Cremonesi 1902-1953. Un martire per il nostro tempo (Alfredo Cremonesi 1902-1953. A martyr for our time), Bologna 2003. All quotes attributed to Cremonesi come from this book, which offers a first look at the martyr’s life.